From the influence
Thanks to a string of name-checks by pop stars like Miley Cyrus, Madonna and Kanye West, as well as several tragic deaths at music festivals, ”molly”—aka MDMA—has rarely been far from the headlines in recent years.
Last winter, a bad batch sent nearly a dozen Wesleyan students to the hospital. Then over the summer, a 19-year-old girl became the second young woman to die after taking the drug at Echostage, a Washington, DC music venue. And in 2013, a University of Virginia student passed away after taking molly—the same weekend two Electric Zoo attendees died after reportedly taking the drug.
Let’s keep some perspective: Despite its potential to make people sick, it’s also important to remember that the majority of partiers popping molly across the globe don’t end up in the hospital. But why is it that some do?
“The only people we see either through the emergency room or arrests are people having some kind of significant adverse effect, so we don’t really know what percentage of people who use it end up with these adverse effects,” says Dr. Barry Logan, a toxicologist who has studied molly.
His insight, along with the published research, dispelled four common misconceptions about the popular party drug.
1. Molly is not pure MDMA
Dr. Logan swabbed the saliva of 60 attendees who said they took molly at Miami’s Ultra music festival last year, and the results were damning: Only about 17% had ingested actual MDMA.
Of those 60 people, about 35% had taken ethylone; 25% had taken methylone, and 13% had taken Alpha-PVP. These are all new psychoactive substances similar to MDMA, with A-PVP having more stimulant effects than methylone and ethylone. These newer drugs were, Dr. Logan says, synthesized in response to the prohibition of MDMA. And now they’re routinely passed off as MDMA.
2. Deaths aren’t always the result of overdose
Although higher doses of MDMA (and the synthetic cathinones often sold as MDMA) are generally considered riskier, low doses of MDMA can be dangerous too. A 2001 study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that while most MDMA-related “serious toxicity or fatality” involves blood levels of MDMA 40 times higher than the typical recreational dose, some fatalities involved doses considered “normal” among recreational users.
“With any drug and with MDMA and some of these substitutes, you absolutely can overdose on them if you take enough,” Dr. Logan says, “but I would say the adverse effects are typically not because people are overdosing. It’s because they’re taking it in a pattern of intensive use—they have some pre-existing risk factor [like a cardiac disease], or they’re taking it in an environment where they’re not hydrating or it’s already hot and they’re increasing their risk.”
3. The club might not be the best place for molly
The idea of using molly might evoke a crowd of pulsating partiers illuminated by a club’s light show. But taking molly in a hot, crowded club where water is only accessible behind the bar is a practice with plenty of negatives.
Dr. Harold Kalant, author of the Canadian study noted earlier, wrote that “perhaps the most dangerous form of toxicity induced by ‘ecstasy’ is a hyperplexic pattern of toxicity that closely resembles heatstroke.”
Most strikingly, this particularly dangerous reaction to MDMA “has become increasingly frequent since the adoption of MDMA by participants in raves.” MDMA increases body temperature a bit—but dancing in a hot crowd without hydrating greatly exacerbates this effect.
4. The “comedown” is heavily influenced by external factors
The molly “comedown” is such a dreaded part of the experience that some users find it can sully the high, making them too anxious about how they’ll feel once the molly wears off to relax and enjoy their roll.
Combining molly with other drugs and alcohol, a predisposition to mental illness, lack of sleep, or the simple fact of going from high to sober have all been linked to negative mood after a roll.